My friend and I will be coming to town for a conference in early Feb. We'd like to go out to a couple of good restaurants while we are in town, perhaps one casual and one nicer. If there is some good (but not wild - we are kind of past that stage of life!)nightlife, we'd love that recommendation too. We are staying at the Dolphin and will have no children with us -- kid-friendly is not a requirement. We are from Dallas, so have many chains here already. If there is something good that is not a chain, that would be our first pick. We haven't yet decided whether to rent a car. Will we need/want one? We haven't figured out what to do with the week-end before the conference starts so would love any suggestions on that too. Are there any inexpensive breakfast places near our hotel?
Thanks for your help, chowhounds!
You're in luck, because within walking distance to the Dolphin is the Disney Boardwalk, which should fulfill your nightlife requirements -- it's not nearly as wild as Pleasure Island, more live music than DJ-type clubs. My folks and I had a decent time at Jellyrolls, a singalong dueling-piano bar along the lines of Howl at the Moon.
I haven't eaten over there, but heard good things about Flying Fish Cafe and Spoodles.
The Dolphin and Swan hotels are connected, and their signature dining page is here: http://www.swandolphin.com/dining/sig...
There have been great reviews on this board for Bluezoo (Todd English), which should satisfy your fine-dining request. Shula's is a chain steakhouse -- not the best in Orlando but should do if you want a nice steak and won't have a car.
Also, you can hop a bus outside your hotel that will take you basically anywhere on Disney property -- so search this board for "Disney" and you'll get tons more recommendations.
As for whether you need a car -- if you have transportation to your conference site, and you can go around Disney property, and the park restaurants seem like what you're lookign for, I think you should be fine. If you'll have park tickets, that opens up a lot more dining options, many of which are excellent. (Though some of the hotels have great dining too; Jiko, Boma, Yachtsman Steakhouse, anything at the Grand Floridian, etc.) If you're aiming for an in-depth chowhound search, trekking about for hidden gems, etc., yeah, you'll need a car. Orlando's a BIG city.
Hope that helps!
If you rent a car, drive over to Celebration, it's kind of a weird little town, but we had a great italian meal at Cafe D'Antonio.